Owning and operating drones in Ireland
What is a drone or UAS?
Drones, or Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), are remotely piloted flying crafts that a person on land controls with a remote.
Drones vary in size and weight and can come fitted with features such as cameras or sensors.
If you own or use a drone in Ireland, various laws and rules apply to you, regardless of whether you use the drone for educational, scientific, or recreational purposes.
The law on drones also applies to other types of aircraft without a pilot on board. This includes certain radio-controlled flying models.
If you fly a drone in Ireland that weighs more than 250 grams or has a camera or sensor, then you must register as a drone operator with the Irish Aviation Authority.
A person may not operate a drone in a manner that may be hazardous to other aircraft, or that may endanger life or result in damage to property.
Registering as a drone operator
Drone-owners must register with the Irish Aviation Authority to fly drones that weigh 250 grams or more. Registration costs €30 and is valid for 2 years. If you live in the European Union, you only need to register in the country where you live, and not in each country where you want to fly your drone.
Even if your drone weighs less than 250 grams, you must register if it has a camera or sensor unless it complies with the ‘toy’ directive.
To register, you must:
- Be 16 or over
- Set up an account and verify your identity
- Take an online training course that lasts about 15 minutes
If your drone is above 4 kilograms, or if you are planning on doing certain activities with your drone, you must do extra training.
Once you are registered, you must label your drone with your drone operator ID.
Where can I fly my drone?
You should not fly a drone:
- In a way that could cause a hazard to another aircraft
- Near moving aircraft or in an aerodrome traffic circuit
- In a manner that poses a risk to people, the environment or property
Flying drones is separated into 3 categories based on the risk attached:
- Open category
- Specific category
- Certified category
If you are flying a drone that weighs under 25 kilograms within the limits of the ‘open’ category you do not need a prior permission for the flight. There are 3 subcategories in the ‘open’ category – A1, A2 and A3.
To fly a drone that weighs more than 25 kilograms, or to fly your drone outside the ‘open’ category limits, you must apply for an Operational Authorisation from the Irish Aviation Authority.
Make sure to always look at the UAS geographical zone map before you fly your drone. There are specific places where you are not allowed to fly your drone, or you might need permission to fly. Some areas may have certain restrictions or limitations on flying your drone. The IAA website has more information.
The Irish Aviation Authority or the Gardaí can take away your drone if they believe it is likely that you will use your drone in breach of the regulations.
Open category refers to drone flights which are deemed to be a low risk.
Drones in the open category must weigh less than 25 kilograms and have one of the class identification marks 0, 1, 2, 3 or 4. Drones bought before 1 January 2023 are not required to have a class identification mark.
You can fly an ‘open’ category drone (weighing under 25 kilograms) without permission, as long as:
- The drone is no more than 120 metres above the level of the land or water directly below
- The drone is not outside your line of sight
- The drone is not on or near certain exempted zones such as around hospitals and aerodromes
- Your capacity to operate the drone is not affected by the consumption of alcohol or illness.
There are restrictions in place on:
- Whether and to what extent you can fly over or near uninvolved people or crowds
- Whether you can fly it in urban areas
The restrictions depend on which subcategory the drone falls into and what class identification mark it has.
Your drone cannot carry dangerous goods or release any objects.
The specific category covers drone flights which are deemed to have a medium level of risk.
Drones that weigh more than 25 kilograms cannot be flown without the explicit permission of the Irish Aviation Authority. If you want to fly your drone outside the limits of the ‘open category’ you must inform the Irish Aviation Authority and generally await an Operational Authorisation.
Incidents involving drones
If your drone is involved in an accident that involves serious injury or death to a person you must inform:
- The UAS Division of the Irish Aviation Authority
- The Gardaí
- The Air Accident Investigation Unit
You must also inform the organisations listed above if your drone is involved in a serious incident that could have resulted in injury or death to someone.
The Gardaí can detain the drone if they suspect there has been a breach of the law.
A licenced aerodrome operator may use a counter UAS system to disable, disrupt or seize control of an unmanned aircraft to ensure the safety of civil aviation and the public.
The Irish Aviation Authority can direct a drone operator to get insurance to cover third parties.
Drones and data protection
If you operate a drone that has a camera or listening device which is capable of recording images or video of persons who could be identified (with or without zooming in), you could be a data controller under the General Data Protection Regulations.
Any processing of personal data, including gathering, exchanging or transmitting digital recordings must be done in accordance with data protection law. You must have a legal basis to process that personal data. This could be that you have:
- The person’s consent, or
- A legitimate interest in processing the personal data, and there is only a minimal impact on the person’s rights.
You may be required to prepare a Data Protection Impact Assessment.
You can minimise the impact on the person’s data protection rights by using blurring software, or some other method of making the person less identifiable.
Using a drone to take pictures or video as a recreational activity may be exempt from data protection law, but only if you do not publish the images or video to an unrestricted audience.
You can read more in the Data Protection Commission’s Guidance on the Use of Drones.
EU law regulates the design, specifications, manufacture, and marketing of unmanned aircraft systems within the European market.
It also outlines strict rules about potential add-ons and accessories that operators can purchase and fit into their drones.
For more information, please see the website of the Irish Aviation Authority.